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[TRAIN] Rundown of VIA Preference (updated March 1, 2021)

It has been over 2 years since my last update regarding VIA Rail’s loyalty program: VIA Preference. Also, if you have read my other train related posts, you’ll know that I am a huge fan of trains… yes… even more than the plane when factoring the overall experience. So I always have fun writing about Canada’s primary passenger rail service!

With international travel restrictions tightening up, travel within Canada might be the way to go? Today’s post will update the features and benefits of the VIA Preference program. But also, introduce Rail passes, which I may look into writing an more in-depth post about it in the future. Let’s kick things off with one significant change to VIA Rail’s loyalty program, the expiry policy.

Expiry Policy

VIA Preference enhanced its points expiry policy. Prior to December 2019, all points were set to expire on December 31, 2021, regardless of when they were earned, since that was the end of their contract. Since December 5, 2019, VIA Préférence has updated some of their rules. What did remained the same is that new members must earn points within the first 12 months for their membership to keep their account active.

Going forward:

  • Membership remains active as long as points are accumulated or redeemed within a three-year period. VIA Rail reserves the right to cancel memberships that have been inactive for three consecutive years, in which case members would be advised within 60 days, but no later than 30 days prior to their membership being cancelled due to inactivity. Upon cancellation, all remaining points expire from the inactive account.

Basically VIA Rail has discretionary powers to terminate an account if there is no activity after 3 years. However, they also have discretion to keep the account open too.

I am curious to know if they are actually enforcing this policy. So if you have any experience with this, please let us know in the comment section below!

Elite Status

VIA Rail has an elite status program with some valuable benefits. The qualifying period for elite status runs from April 1 to March 31 every year. The benefit period runs from May 1 to April 30, so you do not get the benefits right away after qualifying for it.

VIA Preference has two levels of elite status (in addition to the basic Preference level). Below are the key highlights of each level:

Preference

  • Earn 1 point for every $1 spent on base fares (before taxes)
  • Unrestricted reward travel (except December 23 and December 24)

Privilège

  • Qualify by spending at least $1,000 on base fares (before taxes)
  • Earn 2 points for every $1 spent on base fares
  • Choice of 2 exclusive coupons
    • Coupon 1:
      • Earn 550 VIA Préférence bonus points
      • Receive 20% off the best available Economy class fare in the Corridor
      • Receive 20% off the best available Business class fare
      • Spend 50% fewer points on a reward trip in the Corridor.
    • Coupon 2
      • Earn 1,125 VIA Préférence bonus points
      • Receive 50% off adult regular fare on the Ocean, the Canadian or the Winnipeg–Churchill route (valid in Sleeper Plus class)
      • Receive 20% off the best available Economy class fare in the Corridor
      • Receive 20% off the best available Business class fare
  • Access to a priority ticket line in major stations
  • Unrestricted reward travel (except December 23 and December 24)

In terms of the choice of coupons, personally I always chose the two bonus points rather than any discount codes. I find points are more flexible to use that a coupon. Keep in mind that’s a total of 1,675 bonus points to be had.

Premier

  • Qualify by spending at least $2,000 on base fares and complete at least 8 segments
  • Same benefits as Privilège members
  • Earn 3 points for every $1 spent on base fares
  • Choice of 4 exclusive coupons
    • Coupon 1:
      • Earn 1,125 VIA Préférence bonus points
      • Receive 50% off adult regular fare on the Ocean, the Canadian or the Winnipeg–Churchill route (valid in Sleeper Plus class)
      • Receive 20% off the best available Economy class fare in the Corridor
      • Receive 20% off the best available Business class fare
    • Coupon 2
      • Earn 1,125 VIA Préférence bonus points
      • Receive 20% off the best available Business class fare
      • Receive 20% off the best available Economy class fare in the Corridor
      • Book an Economy Plus or Business Plus adult fare ticket, and claim a reward ticket for a companion at 50% fewer points
    • Coupon 3
      • Earn 550 VIA Préférence bonus points
      • Receive 20% off the best available Business class fare
      • Spend 50% fewer points on a reward trip in Economy class (system-wide) or Sleeper Plus class
      • Receive 20% off the best available Economy class fare in the Corridor
    • Coupon 4
      • Earn 550 VIA Préférence bonus points
      • Receive 20% off the best available Business class fare
      • Receive 20% off the best available Economy class fare in the Corridor
      • Spend 50% fewer points on a reward trip in the Corridor
  • Receive lounge access with an Economy Plus ticket or Economy Multi Pass (normally only for Business fare tickets)
  • Receive priority meal selection in Business class
  • Receive priority boarding in Montréal, Toronto and Québec City (in Business or Economy class)

Once again, I would recommend taking all the bonus points available. That’s another 3,350 points boost. The companion option in coupon 2 might be valuable if you can take advantage of it. Keep in mind that members can use their points to book a reward ticket for someone else. So it would depend on whether they can get more than 1,125 points in value with the companion ticket.

Otherwise, for the rest of the options, I personally prefer the points for more flexibility, since the only 2 blackout dates are December 23 and 24.

Earning Points

Sign Up Bonus

The VIA Preference program is free to sign up and offers a generous sign up bonus. You can earn 500 bonus points after spending $250 (on base fares) within the first 6 months. After spending the $250, you will have a total of 750 points (500 sign up bonus + 250 in spending) to jump start your account.

Included Items

Below are the items that you can earn VIA Preference points by purchasing:

  • For travel aboard all trains (earned on base fare only, excluding taxes)
  • The Canadian portion aboard the train between Toronto (Canada) and New York (United States) (must be booked through VIA Rail)
  • Upgrades to Business class
  • Tickets with a CN or CP pass
  • Passes (including Multi Pass, Commuter Pass, Leisure Pass, Youth Pass, Student Pass or Canada Pass)
  • VIA Rail gift cards

Fare Classes

Below are the earning ratios of each fare class:

  • Earn 100% points on Escape and Business class fares
  • Earn 125% points on Economy fares
  • Earn 150% points on Economy Plus and Business Plus fares

Note that VIA Rail also often runs limited time multiplier bonus points promotions on certain routes, but you need to register for these offers to qualify. So before you book a ticket, be sure to register for any offers available to you by logging into your VIA Preference account first.

Excluded Items

There are many other purchases that can be made through VIA Rail, but will not earn you points, including:

  • Service charges or baggage fees
  • Food and beverages purchased onboard
  • Souvenirs from the VIA Rail boutique
  • Tickets purchased with a VIA Rail pass
  • Tickets purchased with an AD75 or AD50 coupon
  • The rail travel portion of a package trip
  • Rail travel purchased through a tour operator or sales agent, whether or not part of a package trip
  • Partial charters and group fares
  • Purchase of VIA Rail gift cards
  • Use of Promotional Travel Credits
  • Services offered by VIA Rail’s partners and intermodal services such as Amtrak, Trentway-Wagar, STM, Pacific Coach Lines, GO Transit or AMT
  • Tickets purchased through Amtrak for the Maple Leaf train between Toronto and New York.

Surveys

One hidden gem is being able to earn points by completing surveys with AskingCanadians.

Redeeming Points

The good part about redeeming VIA Preference points is that the redemption includes any taxes (i.e. all inclusive).

I value each point at 6 cents a piece. If you are not getting at least 6 cents per point, you won’t have to feel as bad purchasing the ticket instead. Train ticket prices vary depending on the day and time you are planning to travel. To calculate the value of the points, I would base it on how restrictive your timing of travel is. If your only choices are high priced trips, then it would be an ideal time to redeem points to get more value. The reason is because VIA Preference operates on a fixed rewards system, which means it costs the same number of points for the same route, regardless of the actual dollar cost.

Rail Passes

I find that their Rail passes are highly underrated as there is value to them. They have the following benefits:

  • Option for fixed or unlimited travel credits within designated zones
  • Valid anytime with no blackout dates

In terms of the fixed credit passes, you will need to do the your personality calculations to determine whether it is worthwhile to buy it by dividing the cost of the pass by the credits and then comparing to buying tickets individually.

What does peak my interest is the unlimited pass. With these passes, you can hop on and off the train however often you want anywhere across the country (also known as Zone 6 passes). They offer 3 pass options:

  • $821 for 15 days
  • $1,308 for 30 days
  • $1,519 for 60 days

Going Forward

I would love for VIA Rail to eventually offer a co-branded credit card. But that is probably a stretch at this point in time. For now, I do hope that VIA Rail continues to invest into improving their infrastructure by making it more accessible across Canada, as well as increasing the travel speed whatever way they can.

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Pointshogger aims to provide analysis and updates on earning loyalty reward points and maximizing the value of your points. We hope to inspire our readers to experience the joy of travel and make the most out of what they've already got!

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